Francis Browne was born in Cork in 1880, and began taking photographs at the age of seventeen, when he toured Europe with his brother and his Kodak camera. When he returned to Ireland he joined the Jesuit Order as a novice.
At Royal University, Dublin, he was a classmate of James Joyce and this author featured him as Mr Browne the Jesuit in Finnegans Wake. During time spent studying in Italy, he learnt a considerable amount about perspective, balance and composition and this proved to be very valuable for his later photographic work. In 1906, he founded The Camera Club and The Belvederian, the annual for the college where he taught and which he edited until 1911.
Brownes place in history was secured when his uncle bought him a ticket for the first two legs of the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Fortunately leaving the ship when it reached Ireland, his photographs aboard this doomed liner appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world, and included the last extant photograph of Captain Edward Smith. On 31st July 1915, Browne was ordained a priest. He was immediately assigned as Chaplain to the Irish Guards, whom he served on the front lines in France and Flanders during the Great War, for which he was awarded the MC and Bar and the Croix de Guerre.
Due to a lung condition, his doctor prescribed a warmer climate, and so he spent 1924 and 1925 in Australia. He also visited South Africa, Ceylon, the Cocos Islands, Suez Gibraltar and Algeciras, which added an important international dimension to his photographic collection. In 1927 Father Browne became a Vice President of the first Irish International Salon of Photography, under the presidency of Sir John Lavery. He exhibited his own work at these exhibitions and won several prizes.
By the time of his death in 1960 he had taken 42,000 photographs, and amazingly these lay in a trunk in the Jesuit archives for twenty-five years before they were discovered and brought to light. Father Brownes photographs have a historical significance as social documents of his time and his contribution to the art of photography is equally important.
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